According to studies in 2019, adolescents are developmentally wired to pursue highly stimulating behaviors to garner a large neurologic reward”. Unlike natural rewards such as eating food, opioids prompt a direct receptor binding of the signaling in the reward center. This is a psychoactive and forceful type of stimulation. As a result, the initiation of substance use peak during adolescence and early adulthood.
This type of risky behavior is more likely to be deterred in adults because of their development of the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for functions such as impulse control, self monitoring, and error correction. However, seeing that the prefrontal cortex does not mature fully until the age of 25 (approximately), the risky behaviors are less likely to be discouraged because of their insufficient development. This ultimately leaves the brain’s reward center vulnerable to changes that result in addiction.
Along with neurological vulnerabilities, physiologic vulnerabilities for opioids are intensified by environmental factors, such as availability, promotion, and cultural messaging.